Roll out the orange carpet as the Anaheim Ducks drop the puck on the 2017-18 season Thursday against the Arizona Coyotes.
Winners of the last five Pacific Division titles, the Ducks were just two wins away from their third Stanley Cup Finals appearance in club history last season.
Returning nearly an identical roster to last season after having locked up the likes of Cam Fowler and Patrick Eaves to new contracts in the summer, Randy Carlyle’s team embarks on this season looking to improve on a 105-point total from 2016-17. But despite the lack of changeover, there are still some lingering questions before the Ducks get set to fly into a new season.
Here’s a look at three of the most pressing questions for the Ducks this season:
How will the team cope without Hampus Lindholm, Ryan Kesler and Sami Vatanen in the first few months of the season?
Anaheim will start the season down three of its stars until December at the earliest – and in Kesler’s case, likely longer.
Part of the most talented, young defense corps in the West, if not the entire NHL, Lindholm and Vatanen both spent over 21 minutes a night on the ice for the Ducks in 2016-17 contributing 44 points from the blue line. Both players had offseason shoulder surgery and are expected to miss at least the first two months of the season despite reports they are ahead of schedule.
Fellow youngster Brandon Montour is expected to step up following a strong playoff run, and Francois Beauchemin returns for his third stint with the Ducks, but it’s difficult to lose two mainstays in the lineup at the same time to start the season.
For Kesler, the problem is a bit trickier.
Offseason hip surgery was required to clean up a problem the center suffered with throughout last season and playoffs. Currently there is no definitive timetable for the team’s No. 1 faceoff man and shutdown center, but they are optimistic he could be back on the ice in January.
As a result though, the Ducks have had to shuffle leading scorer Rickard Rakell back to center where he’ll be asked to contribute more on the defensive side of things.
How the team will cope without Kesler’s 22 goals last season and stellar play against team’s top lines will be a primary concern in a center-heavy Pacific Division.
Can the team keep John Gibson healthy?
The man they call “Gibby” played in a career-high 52 games last season posting a 2.22 goals against average and .924 save percentage last season.
Despite winning a career-high 25 games during that time, Gibson missed all but one game in March due to injury. He returned just in time for the Ducks’ playoff run but was not on the ice as the Nashville Predators eliminated the Ducks in Game 6 of the Western Conference Finals.
Former Vezina Trophy winner Ryan Miller was signed over the summer to backup Gibson but the former Canuck is 37 years of age and can’t be counted on to shoulder the load for long stretches.
It will be imperative for the Ducks to keep Gibson on his feet and as healthy as possible towards the end of the season if they hope to make another playoff run.
Which Corey Perry will we see?
Every opposing fans’ favorite player to hate, Perry has averaged over 31 goals per season since his first full season with the Ducks in 2006-07. Last year, the winger netted just 19 times, with seven of those goals coming in the team’s last 14 games of the season.
Prior to that tally, Perry had not put together a sub 30-goal season since 2009-10, if you exclude the strike-shortened 2012-13.
While the former Hart and Richard Trophy winner isn’t getting any younger at 32, most of Perry’s game doesn’t rely on skills that decline with age – he’s never been a speedster and always done most of his work just feet from the opponent’s red line. The Ducks will hope last season was just an aberration having managed another division title despite Perry’s struggles.
Source: Fox Sports